The government has provoked a new row with unions over how NHS bodies should implement enhanced holiday pay rates demanded by the working- time directive.
It has slipped what appears to be a firm proposal on the issue into its evidence to the pay review body for nursing staff, midwives and professions allied to medicine.
It says higher holiday pay, based on average earnings instead of basic rates, will be paid only for the number of weeks' holiday guaranteed by the directive.
That would mean a nurse with six weeks' annual leave would receive only half of it at the higher rate, rising to four weeks from November.
MSF union health secretary Roger Kline said it was the first time holiday pay had become a controversial issue.
'If it was an issue, why wasn't it raised by management when we were negotiating on the working time regulations?' he asked. 'This is an absolutely miserly and unjustifiable change.'
Unison believes that pressure by its regional officers against selected trusts has helped to flush out the government's proposal.
Last week, the union agreed to withdraw several hundred employment tribunal cases against trusts in Cumbria and North Lancashire after claiming that they had each agreed to pay the enhanced holiday rates.
Unison regional organiser Peter Doyle, who first lodged claims on the issue in 1996, claimed that full-time nurses would get up to£400 more holiday pay a year, based on all annual leave being paid at the higher rates.
But several of the targeted trusts denied that they had reached an agreement to pay. West Cumbria Healthcare trust human resources director Shirley Chipperfield said: 'We have told Unison that it is a national issue and we are awaiting further national guidance. Until the matter is clarified, we won't be making the payment.'
Carlisle Hospitals trust denied that it had faced any legal challenge on the issue. HR director Keith McIntosh said managers and unions were working on implementing the directive through workshops facilitated by the Arbitration, Conciliation and Advisory Service.
Holiday pay was included in national guidance last November, and has been raised by the staff side in negotiations at the General Whitley Council. New guidance is expected shortly.
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